(pl. lēgēs), primarily, a statute, passed by one of the assemblies of the Roman people; the lex Hortensia of 287 bc conferred the force of statute on measures passed by a meeting of the plebs, and these came in time to be referred to loosely as leges. See plebiscitum. The passage of a lex involved a magistrate presenting a proposal in the form of a question: ‘Would you wish, would you order, Quirītēs, that…? This then, as I have spoken, so I ask (rogō) you, Quirites.’ (Quirites=assembled citizens of Rome.) The measure had normally to be promulgated at least three market‐days, nundinae, beforehand (see trinundinum); and there could then be debate in a series of informal gatherings, contiones (see contio); but in the assembly the people could only answer yes or no. See elections and voting (Roman). Once the measure had been passed, the subjunctives of the dependent clauses of the rogātiō were converted into the future imperatives which are characteristic of Roman legislative style. The text was then both published and placed in the archives. In the late republic and for the period of the early empire for which legislation survived, there was a tendency not to bother to carry out this process of conversion: only the enforcement clauses at the end appeared in the future imperative.
In the same period, there was increasing discussion of the sources of law, of which statutes formed only one kind; under the empire, decrees of the senate, which had been marginal under the republic, increased in importance (see senatus consultum); and imperial pronouncements became the principal source of law (see constitutions).
Major groups of leges were: agrarian; laws regulating minimum ages for and intervals between different magistracies (see careers, roman); laws confirming citizenship or Latinity on Latin or Italian communities; laws providing for the subsidized or free distribution of corn to (some of) the Roman people; laws dealing with the establishment and organization of the criminal courts; laws dealing with extortion; laws regulating consumption and display; laws introducing and regulating the secret ballot for assembly votes.
Subjects: Classical Studies — Law.